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Shuster heads back to Iraq

November 25, 2005|BY DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - In the wake of a call last week by one member of Pennsylvania's congressional delegation to withdraw immediately from Iraq, U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster said he will soon be leaving on his third trip to that country in the next few days.

"Our No. 1 message is to make sure our troops know that the American people and Congress are behind them," Shuster, R-Pa., said Wednesday in a teleconference. Shuster, who represents the 9th Congressional District of Pennsylvania, said he wanted members of the armed forces in Iraq to know "the American people are thinking of them, not only in thoughts, but in their prayers."

On Friday, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 403-3 against a resolution by Rep. John Murtha, D-12th, calling for the United States to withdraw its troops.

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"I think it's crystal clear there's absolutely not support for the immediate withdrawal of our troops," Shuster said of the vote. Shuster said he is also against setting any timetable for drawing down U.S. forces in the country.

"You can't give the enemy a specific timetable," he said. That would allow terrorists to regroup, rearm and await the time when the U.S. military has left.

Shuster said he talked with a constituent recently who told him that withdrawing U.S. forces "would be a great dishonor to the 2,000 who gave their lives in the effort."

"John Murtha is an honorable man. You'd have to ask John Murtha what his motives were," Shuster said, declining to speculate about Murtha's reasons for calling for the withdrawal.

Shuster said the time to draw down U.S. troops will depend on one of two factors.

One is the training of Iraqi government forces. "Not just training, but operational experience," he said, referring to the need for the Iraqi military to gain combat experience.

The other is political, he said. With parliamentary elections scheduled for Dec. 15, Shuster said it is possible a democratically-elected government could ask the United States to withdraw.

For security reasons, Shuster would not say when the two-day trip will begin, other than it will be during the upcoming week. "I don't want anybody necessarily shooting at me," he said.

The trip will include at least three Democrats and three Republicans, he said.

Shuster recalled from his last trip in October 2004 that the United States was making good progress in restoring water, electricity and other utilities to parts of Iraq, which he said is important to its political stability.

He said a meeting in one city reminded him of "an Altoona (Pa.) City Council meeting." He said residents were concerned about such issues as sewers, garbage collection, police protection and roads.

"They're just people like us," he said. "They want their families to be safe and secure."

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